Would you be willing to be hungry every day for the rest of your life if you were promised an extended lifespan? The research continues to suggest that a low calorie intake, say 30% less than a maintenance level for an average weight person, would significantly reduce the risk of many serious diseases and probably extend the lifespan in humans.
A recent issue of U.S. News and World Report looks at what we know about healthy aging, and it reports what we have been hearing for years now. Animal studies, including the most recent ones on Rhesus monkeys show dramatic health benefits from under-eating. The implication is that life expectancy would also be greater. Human studies are also underway, and the results appear similar.
Interesting, but I have concerns about the usefulness of these studies for most people. I consider myself a fairly health-conscious and disciplined person, but I would not choose to reduce my calorie intake by 30% to possibly add a few years to my life. As one of the researchers was quoted after giving up on a calorie-restricted diet after a week, “It just made life seem longer.”
Another concern I have is that most of the people I meet through my work are trying to improve their health through better eating and exercise, and they have enough difficulty making changes without adding the stress of being hungry. This goes back to what I know I keep repeating – healthy changes are more likely to happen if people get enough to eat to avoid over-hunger. Hunger is stressful! Most people I see who struggle with weight issues do not benefit from the extreme approach. It makes it harder, not easier to make changes – because it “messes with their heads!”
The people who are able to start out at normal weight and then still reduce their calorie intake by 30% for years at a time are really rare. Most people can make some more modest changes and see noticeable health benefits without the extreme deprivation. It still comes down to lifestyle vs. longevity. How much are you willing to give up to get a certain level of health benefit. Most people need a bit of pleasure from their food in order to not feel deprived. My healthy balance includes something sweet, exercise, and a glass of wine most days of the week. I guess they call that moderation, and I’m stickin’ with it!